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There have been a few days this year where I’ve wanted very badly to just throw in the towel, catch the next flight home, and go home to my mama. Our first day here was a prime example of that, and many of the ones following. In the past months, I have (thankfully) felt that way much less often. But yesterday I came close to feeling that way again, reminding me once more that I am not an island. Nor do I like being one.

This is not intended to be a pity party or sob story — oh yeah, poor me, living in Portugal and traveling to far-off places. No. That is not my intention. I recognize the amazing privilege we have in taking this year off, and I am immensely grateful to whatever fates aligned my path with Gabe’s lo those four years ago now. (Has it really only been that long?!)

So when I say this year is hard, it’s not “hard” in the same sense as giving birth, or learning how to care for a toddler and a newborn at the same time. It’s not “hard” in the same way as a long-distance relationship is hard, or training for a triathlon, or starting a career in a new field. It’s certainly not anywhere in the same league as having a loved one with a chronic or terminal illness — that I can say from experience. (All of these are things that close friends of mine have done while we’ve been away, by the way, chapters of their lives that I’ve missed, conversations I haven’t had. The new babies are by far what I regret missing out on the most.)

But with all of that said… sometimes, this year has been and continues to be just that: hard. Difficult. Sometimes, it feels as though time is just flying by me, and I’m loathe to leave this lovely city and go home to our regular lives. Other days, my whole being longs to be Home, to smell the ocean, have lunch with my mom and coffee with a girlfriend, even to see all the crazy fellow endorphin addicts in my morning spin class. In case you haven’t guessed yet, recently I have been trending towards the latter side of that spectrum.

One day last week, I took a look back at my calendar from last May to see what I was doing a year ago. I was shocked at the amount of stuff I saw on there: spin, lunch, and coffee, yes, but also therapy sessions, wine dates with girlfriends, movies with Gabe (OK so I still do that one), meetings, dinners out with friends, book club… the list went on and on. I tend to think of myself as a fairly unsocial person, but my calendar tells a different story. I commented on this to Gabe, who was somewhat less surprised. He said, “Yeah, I’ve never really believed it when you said that you weren’t social.”

OK so maybe I am more of a social animal than I thought. While here though, I’ve welcomed the chance to be solitary, to lick my wounds after a difficult few years, to put myself first for a little while after learning the hard way to put others’ needs before my own. Some days though, it’s not as fun. And yesterday was one of them.

Being here has really made me understand the importance of having a social group, not just for the company, but as a support network. Last May, I was just coming out of a very difficult period in my life, so every one of those lunches, dinners, coffees, or what have you was not just a social outing, it was a way of healing myself. For a long time, I thought that my friends weren’t being supportive or understanding enough. Now, I see that you don’t have to talk about something directly to be supportive — any social contact helps.

It’s during my darker days that I realize how thin my support network really is here. With time, I know there are a few of our friendships here that could turn into very strong relationships. But I don’t have that time, so a part of me has always held back from laying down the groundwork for that next level of friendship. Sometimes, I regret not having done so.

Thanks to the wonders of Skype, however, I have an easily accessible virtual support network. Within the past twenty four hours, I have had a video conversation with my mom and brother — always guaranteed to cheer me up — and a quick “natter” with a girlfriend from grad school as she walked to work this morning. It’s not the same as actually having breakfast with my family, or nattering on for hours over coffee or a glass of wine, but it does make a huge difference.

So. The lesson of the day, brought to you by Skype: when life is hard(ish), reach out and touch someone. No matter how far away.

(As a side note: This weekend we’re off to points north — Coimbra, Porto, along with the Pope, and then the mountains near the Spanish border — so I’m not sure how much I’ll be able to write. But I will take lots of pics, of course, and post them when we return next week. Til then, abracos e beijinhos, or hugs and kisses.)


“Treat history as a springboard, not as an anchor.”

- General John G. Medaris

When I Wrote It

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